Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Titanic

The Titanic

gandma2.JPGI was watching a TV show commemorating the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, the ship that was supposed to be unsinkable, and it took me back to my childhood and memories of my Grandmother’s house.  I lived in Philadelphia, in a row house, and the only trees or open spaces we knew there were in the parks. At Grandmother’s house there was a meadow that Jones Falls ran through.  In the 1800’s and early 1900’s it was home to several cotton mills.  There were hundreds of trees to climb and make Tarzan swings in.  It was a child’s playground and paradise.
stove3.JPGMy sisters and brothers and I spent our summer vacations with my Grandmother Sarah.  She lived at the top of a steep hill on 1517 Baldwin Street in Baltimore.  Back then, Baldwin Street was made of cobblestones.  Her house was wooden and out front there was a gas streetlamp.  Grandmother’s house had a big front porch and a yard full of flowers.  It was a three story home with six rooms and a summer kitchen out back.  The rooms were very large, there were only two on each floor.  In those days people cooked in the summer kitchen to help keep the house cool but in the winter Grandmother cooked on the big iron coal and woodburning  cookstove. It made the kitchen a cozy place.  On one side of cookstove there was a rocking chair, a favorite place to sit that us kids fought over.

Grandmother Sarah & Papa 1919
We called the living room the ‘front room’ and it was furnished with heavy black leather hobnailed chairs and a sofa.  There was a small woodstove in the front room that, along with the winter wool rugs, kept the room snug on cold winter days.  When summer came Grandfather, who we called Papa, would take up the heavy wool carpets and carry them to the back yard where they were hung over the clothesline and he would beat them until they were clean.  In the summer the front room had seagrass rugs that were so coarse that they would hurt your feet if you came in the house barefooted.

The center of attention in that front room was a large reverse-painted on glass painting of the Sinking of the Titanic.  One end of the ship was under water and the other end was sticking out the water, almost straight up in the air!  I had to stand on the black leather sofa to see the painting in detail - which I did all the time.

I was fascinated with the details!  There were lifeboats and people jumping from the deck and survivors floating in the water.  It seemed like every time I looked at the Titanic painting I saw more and more details.  I could see some people jumping or falling from the ship; I could see them in the water.  It looked like they were trying to get into the lifeboats and I could imagine them crying out to each other.  There were curls of smoke coming out of the smokestacks and there were lights still on in some of the cabins.  In the distance I could see icebergs.  When I leaned in close enough, I could see lines hanging from the deck that the lifeboats were lowered on.  Grandmother had told us there was a band playing on deck and that the band played until the very end.  Sometimes I thought I could almost hear the music.   All of us kids were enchanted with the painting and we talked in whispers about what it must have been like on that cold night out on the ocean when the unsinkable Titanic was sunk by an iceberg.

I’ll never hear about the Titanic without remembering the feeling of being a child in the country at Grandmother’s house with my sisters and brothers staring in wonder at the painting over the sofa.

Dorothy Lee Shortt Baumer

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

How Dottie Met Larry

How Dottie Met Larry

     "You just have to meet this boy, he is so good looking!"  It was the early summer of 1949 and my friend, Mary Jane Engle, had been telling me about this 'cute boy' for weeks.  Her brother Mike had moved next door to this 'cute boy's' family at 1102 South Kenwood Ave. and from the way she talked, and she seemed just crazy about him, I thought he must have been a movie star.

     One day after work I went down to the Canton neighborhood with Mary Jane to see this unbelievable boy.  His sister told us that he was swimming with some of his friends in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, something that boys did back then.  I found out later that the 'cute boy' was quite the swimmer and could swim from Canton to Fort McHenry and back, but at the moment I just wanted to see what he looked like.  We walked toward the harbor but met the boys coming back and I was not as impressed as my friend was.  My first impression of Larry Baumer was that he was cute but too young for me and a little chubby.  Mary Jane and I considered ourselves 'old' at sixteen and Larry was only fifteen.  I looked at Mary Jane and made a thumbs down gesture.

     It would be two years before I would meet that 'cute boy' again.  At the time my family lived at 1415 DeMarcy Way and Mary Jane and her family lived next door.  I had just finished washing my hair and had it wrapped in a towel when I answered a knock at the door.  It was Larry - WOW!  The butterfly had emerged from the cocoon!

     Larry was now six foot one with broad shoulders, slim waist and hips, thick curly black hair and beautiful eyes.  He looked a lot like the handsome new movie star Rock Hudson.  He was definitely a 'thumbs up' now!  He had been visiting his friend, Mary Jane's other brother, Pete, and he wanted to know if he could borrow a pen or a pencil.  I was impressed with his looks but he still seemed too young, after all I was about to turn nineteen and he was just seventeen.

     I didn't know it at that moment but he had been asking about me and had let it be known that he thought I was cute.  Pete and his friends had told him to forget about me because I was so stuck up that I probably wouldn't even talk to him, they were almost right.

     After he had written down something with the borrowed pencil he asked if we could talk for awhile.  I said sure but didn't want to invite him in so we sat on the front steps.  It was a quiet summer evening, about nine o'clock, and we sat on the steps and talked for over an hour before he asked if we could go to the movies the next night.  I told him no, that it was my birthday and I was busy.  He persisted and asked me out for a date on the weekend.  Again, I said no because was too young for me.  "Do you think I look too young?" he asked.  I laughed and told him he looked older but that I was turning nineteen that next day and he was only seventeen, a full year and a half younger, which was just too young.  He told me that I was beautiful.  He told me how much he liked me and how much he wanted to go out with me.  I told him that he wasn't only too young for me but that I didn't think he had enough money to take me anywhere.  He told me that he worked at Crosse & Blackwells and that he did have money and asked me out again.  I laughed again, "But you're still too young!"  So he offered me a bet.
     Larry bet me that he could have a birthday card delivered to my house by the next day, for my birthday, and that if there was a card there when I got home from working, I would go out on a date with him that weekend.  I knew it was impossible.  It was much too late to get a card in the mail, so I said yes - if he could have a birthday card delivered to me on my birthday, I would go out with him

     When I got home the next day there were a dozen roses waiting for me - but from someone named Duke.  There was also a birthday card in the mailbox for me from Larry!  He had won the bet and that weekend we went out together for the first time.  He was a great boyfriend, mature for his age and generous.  Every week when he got paid he bought me a little present.  I never dated anyone else after our first weekend.

     That Christmas Larry gave me a huge teddy bear with a ribbon tied around its neck.  There was an engagement ring tied to that ribbon and that Christmas Larry asked me to marry him.  I told him no.  The bear was cute, and so was Larry, but I explained to him that we were too young and I wasn't ready to get married.  He said that was okay, that we could wait for a few years.  He told me he'd have a better job by then.  I thought about it for awhile and said that I would marry him in a few years.  He was so happy that he picked me up, swung me around and gave me a big kiss.  He was never cuter.

  We didn't wait that long.  Larry and I were married on a summer's Saturday, July 19th, 1952 at St. Bridget's Catholic Church at 911 South Ellwood Ave.  We were married by Father Robert Reed, the same priest who later gave me Catechism classes and who baptized me in 1960 (Larry's sister Doris was my godmother), baptized my first two children, Mickey and Barbara.  Father Reed invited me to receive my First Holy Communion from him, I still have his letter.  The day he married us, Larry was eighteen and I was nineteen.

     After we were married I found out that on the night when he had borrowed the pencil, I wasn't the only person he had made a bet with!  He had bet Mary Jane's brother Pete that he could get me to go out with him, stuck up or not!  That night he won two bets and my heart.

     And how did he get the card to me and win both bets?  After he left my house in Baltimore County, he had to buy a card, walk a long way to the first street car and transfer to a second one to get downtown, to the main Post Office, where he had a friend who was able to sneak it into the next day's delivery and then get back home to Canton.  I still have that birthday card.

     Larry was very proud of my engagement ring and justifiably so.  At the time he was living at home and he gave his mother his paycheck out of which she would give him his spending money.  Since he was too young to open a credit account on his own, he had to have his mother co-sign for him.  He then made the payments out of his 'allowance' along with the little gifts he brought me every week.  He sacrificed a lot for that ring.

     In 1998 I gave the ring to our granddaughter Laura, the granddaughter Larry always called Angel Baby.  Laura was married on May 26th, 2000, to Fred Strauch at the Shrine of the Little Flower Church on Belair Road, the same church in which her mother had been married to Laura's father, Steven Taylor, on December 1st, 1973.  Larry had passed away on a Friday, November 25th, 1995, after a long illness, at the age of sixty-one, but he was at Laura's wedding in spirit and the ring he was so proud of was on a chain around his Angel Baby's neck.

     Over the years Larry and I had our problems, but we always worked it out, and through it all, I never looked at him without seeing a glimpse of that charming, handsome seventeen year old 'cute boy' that I walked hand in hand with in that long ago summer in 1951.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Daddy Works Hard for a Dollar

Daddy Works Hard for a Dollar

Us Kids
          I don’t think we realized we were poor when we were kids.  We were happy kids and all of our friends were just like us.  We knew that work was hard to get but we didn’t think we were poor.

          Daddy had trained and done some work as a plumber but when we were young he took whatever work he could get.  FDR was trying to get the country out of the Depression and he started a lot of programs.  One of those was Relief.  The State would give you a little money and some free food but you would have to work when they wanted and do whatever work they needed.  Daddy shoveled snow in the winter and helped clean the streets in summer.  I guess it wasn’t really free.

          When Daddy went to get the relief food he would take one of us kids, Sonny, Jackie or me, put us in Sonny’s wagon and pull us to where they gave you the food.  It was always dry foods like oatmeal or raisins.  We got so sick of raisins that Jackie still doesn’t like them today.  When the wagon was full Daddy would put us up on top and pull us home. Mommy was always happy to see us and glad to have the food. 

          Sometimes Daddy hustled hot dogs and drinks at different events.  He worked at baseball games, car races and even wrestling matches.  Sometimes he watered down the drinks to make a few extra pennies.  He would take me with him sometimes.  I didn’t like the wrestling or the cars going round and round but I loved going to the baseball games.  While I watched the game the other men hustling food and soda who knew Daddy would make sure I had plenty to eat.  Of course I was proud and happy to be with my father.

          When we walked home he would tell me stories.  Once in 1934, while he was living in Laurel, Maryland, he was having a terrible time finding work in that small town.  He remembered the soup kitchens and men selling apples in the street.  So he hitchhiked to Washington, D.C. hoping to find work.  He didn’t even have a penny in his pocket.  He had been walking for hours, up one street and down another, but there was no work to be found.  It was winter and it was very cold.  Daddy said he was very cold and very hungry.  He finally got up the nerve to ask a well-dressed man for a nickel to get a cup of coffee.  The man looked at him with so much disdain and said, “You are the fifth bum to ask me for a nickel today.”  He turned his back on my father and walked away.  Daddy said he made a vow that day that he would never ask anyone for money again.

My Daddy
          How hard it must have been back then for a man like my father who wanted to support his family.  He was always ready to work hard for a dollar.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Gift Of Love

A Gift Of Love

          One cold Saturday morning in the winter of 1939, while we were living on 11th Street in Philadelphia, my father asked if I’d like to go somewhere with him.

          “Where?” I asked, “How far is it?”

          He laughed.  “You ask too many questions,” he said, “We are going where we can get some clothing.”

          “What kind of place,” I asked, “A store?”

          “No, it’s a church and you don’t have to pay for things there.  They’re free.”

          “What are we going to get?” I asked excitedly, “Will I be getting something?”

          “No,” my mother said, “Your father will be looking for a heavy winter coat for himself.”

          Even though I was only six, I knew that it was hard for my father to get work in those days of the Great Depression and he had to walk outside a lot while he was looking for a job.  So I said, “No matter what the weather is like, you need a coat Daddy, let’s go!”

          We walked down the street and Daddy held my hand as I skipped along beside him.  Soon we came to the church where there was a long line of people waiting to get in.  The line went down some stairs and through a doorway where there was a lady handing out tickets.  Everyone got one ticket that was good for one piece of clothing.  She gave Daddy one ticket and I hoped Daddy would be able to find a good coat for himself.

          It was a very big room, or so it seemed to a little girl, filled with tables piled high with clothes.  As we walked around the room I saw a hat that I thought was just the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  It was a knit hat with flaps that tied under your chin and covered your ears, but the best part was the two yellow wool pigtails that were attached to the back.  

          I picked it up and carried it around with me.  My Daddy looked down at me holding the hat in my two small hands, clutching it to my chest, and he smiled at me.  I’m not sure if he couldn’t find a coat for himself or not but he got the hat for me with our one ticket.  Before we left he put the hat on my head and tied it under my chin.  As we walked down the street on our way home I would shake my head so the yellow pigtails would bounce around.  I was so proud.

          Daddy looked down at me and said, “You look so beautiful Dorothy Lee, in your new hat.”

          When we got home my mother was displeased and angry with my father.  She was the practical one.  She said, “You should have gotten a coat for yourself instead of that silly hat for her!”

          It was a gift of love from a father who couldn’t give much to his little daughter in those hard times.  He gave up a winter coat for himself to get a silly little hat for his little girl.

          I loved that hat as I did my Daddy.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Runt of Sydenham Street

The Runt of Sydenham Street

It was while we lived on Sydenham Street that we got our very first pet – a little black Scottie dog.  I don’t remember how or where we got him from, but I do remember he was the smallest in his litter and that we called him The Runt.

He was so cute!  We all loved him, but for my Mommy it was love at first sight.  Despite Runt’s small size and health problems, he was an active happy dog who would take any opportunity to run out an open door.  One day, as one of us children left the door open, Runt ran out and didn’t return.  That day we couldn’t find him.

Mommy was crying, as were all of us kids.  When, after a few days, he didn’t come back, Daddy went to the SPCA to look for him.  He was there – the dogcatcher had got him.  Daddy had to borrow two dollars to get him out.  Two dollars was a lot of money back in 1939!

We were all so happy when Daddy came in carrying our little Runt.  He was so happy to see us too.  Mommy sat in her chair and held him for a long time.

The Runt was never completely well after that.  I don’t remember how long he was ill, but we didn’t have the money to take him to the veterinary.  He died and we all cried, but it was Mommy who was hit the hardest.  She loved The Runt so much!

Daddy put him a box, covered him with his blanket and buried him in the back yard.  We put little stones all around his grave.  Daddy made a cross out of two sticks tied together.  We were so sad.  We made sure his cross was always upright and that the stones outlining his grave were always in place.

When we were moved to Boston, us kids wanted to take him with us because there wouldn’t be anyone in Philadelphia to take care of his grave.  Daddy said no.  Daddy said The Runt’s place was there on Sydenham Street, that Sydenham Street was his home.  Mommy had some crepe-paper roses she had made and she gave them to us to put on his grave.  

Mommy really loved that little dog.  She always wanted another Scottie dog, but she never got one.  At that time F.D.R. had a little black Scottie in the White House named Fala.

We said a prayer for The Runt.  We said good-bye to him and Philadelphia and we were off to Boston.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Doll Named Shirley

The Doll Named Shirley

       It was August 21st 1937.  America was in the middle of what was called The Great Depression and millions of people were out of work, as was my young 25 year old father.  Today was a big day for me, it was my 5th birthday and I was hoping my mother would make a cake for me.  We were living in Philadelphia in one of many two room apartments we lived in over the next few years.  It had a kitchen and bedroom/living room.  We didn’t have a TV but we had a radio that sat on a small table in the corner of the living room.  There was a radio show for children called Uncle Wip.  They would tell a story, sing some songs and at the end they would wish children by name Happy Birthday.  How do they know whose birthday it is I asked?  Daddy said he guessed it was magic.

          Jackie and I were sitting on the floor in front of the radio listening to the show that day.  They got to the part where they were wishing children happy birthday and I heard them say, “Happy fifth birthday Dorothy Lee and because you have been a good girl all year that is a present behind the radio for you.

          I couldn’t believe it.  I just sat there for a few minutes.  Then I jumped up.  “That’s me!” I yelled.  I was so excited to hear my name on the radio.  Then I thought about the present behind the radio.  It must have been the Shirley Temple doll I wanted!  I wanted the doll with the curly hair and beautiful dress.  With my heart beating fast I ran to the radio to get my beautiful doll.  There was a doll there but not the beautiful one I wanted.

          It was a small celluloid doll with a string of beads around her neck and feathers around her waist for a dress.  She didn’t even have any hair.  I was so disappointed that I could feel the tears forming in my eyes.  As I picked up the little doll I heard my mommy say, “Look, she found the doll!”     
          I looked over to the kitchen and saw my parents peeking around the doorway.  They had big smiles on their faces.  I ran to them and hugged their legs.  Daddy reached down and picked me up.  They were so happy with their surprise for me.  They laughed as they kissed me and said, “Happy Birthday baby!”

          I knew even at that young age that I couldn’t let them know how disappointed I was.  I guess they thought my tears were tears of happiness.  

          I now know how hard it was for them to get even that little celluloid doll for me when pennies could buy food.  And they had called and gotten my name on the radio.

          I came to love that little doll and I called her Shirley anyway.  She was cute.          
          When I was thirteen, my parents gave me my first birthday party where I could invite children not in the family.  I had a lot of fun, got some nice presents but no birthday would ever mean as much to me as my 5th one and no present meant as much to me as my little doll named Shirley.